Marblehill Townland

Today Marblehill is a townland of 503 acres in the province of Connaught in Ireland. Marblehill townland lies in the modern day county of Galway in the barony of Leitrim in the parish of Ballynakill all of these divisions have historical bearings on the area, which has been the home to many different people’s over the years.

Today the most immediately striking feature at the centre of Marblehill is the shell of the “big house”; Marble ill House, which was burnt down during the troubles in 1921 but there is evidence of far earlier human settlement as there are 3 megalithic.tombs which are found lying less than half of a mile away from the house. These tombs; which differ in type two being wedge tombs whilst the third is a portal tomb are in a field which is used by cattle for grazing and are in danger of being damaged and therefore lost by the nation for ever.

The existing mansion was built by John Burke of Grallagh; who was born b. 1713, d. 1793. He was responsible for giving Marble Hill its current name changing it from Creggeen, which literally translated from Irish means hill of small stones so it doesn’t take a great leap to understand his probable reasoning behind the renaming. The exact date of building is uncertain but most sources state ca 1775 and enlarged after 1813 by Sir John Burke, 2nd Baronet.

The Burke family were one of the most influential families in Galway during the 17th and 18th centuries. Being a catholic family they suffered from religious prosecution in post reformation years but they benefitted from the patronage of neighbouring Protestant Masons of Masonbrook, who nominally held the estate in fee during the long period  The family originally had a small holding of about 40 acres at the marble hill site, The original holding, which became the store and farmyard (main trading area) still stands today, just east of the main mansion house. It once incorporated a weigh station, forge and smokehouse that are no longer standing As the families fortunes improved they gained larger lands; the main stay of their income being the increased market demand for beef from America and the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. The increase in demand for beef changed farming and lead to much larger estates as tenant farmers were either evicted or encouraged to emigrate, larger farms were formed.

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By the time that Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland in 1837 the place was well established and he had this to say:

“Ballynakill, a parish partly in the barony of Leitrim, county of Galway and province of Connaught, seven and a half miles west south-west from Portumna; contains with the town of Woodford, 13,103 inhabitants. This parish is situated on the road from Portumna to Gort and comprises 12,006 statute acres as applotted under the Tithe Act; about 800 acres are woodland and the remainder arable and pasture. Marble Hill from Gortenacuppogue, the seat of Sir J. Burke is finely situated in a demesne extensive woodland commanding great views and distinguished by its great variety if surfaces; in the grounds is a spring called Macduff’s well, within a few yards of which are vestiges of a stone altar. The other seats are Shannon Hill, the residence of M. Connolly Esq; Ballinagar of the Hon. A. Nugent; Cloncoe of Ulick Burke Esq; Moyglass of J. Burke Esq; Eagle House of Capt. H. Piggott; Brook ville of Martin White Esq; Ballycorban of Matthew White Esq; and Carroroe Lodge of H. Clarke Esq. Fairs are held on the 1st June and 26th October. It is a rectory in the diocese of Clonfert, part appropriate to the see and Deanery and part forming a portion of the union of Lickmolassy. The tithes amount to £299.15.1 of which £50.15.4 and a half payable to the Ecclesiastical Commission; £13.18.11 and a quarter to the dean and the remainder to the incumbent. The church is at Woodford and the Ecclesiastical Commission have recently granted £213 for repairs; the glebe at Ballynakill comprises 6 acres and 3 roods. In the Roman Catholic division the greater part of the parish is divided into two entire benefices called Ballynakill and Woodford and the remainder forms part of a third. There are chapels at Cloncoe, Loughtorick, Marble Hill, Knockadrian and Woodford; the last erected in 1837 at a cost of £400. A National School has been built and there are 9 pay schools in which 178 boys and 363 girls are educated. There are ruins of an old castle which appears to have been of great strength; and numerous forts. In the demesne of Marble Hill is a subterranean passage now so choked up with reeds and other obstructions as to render it impossible to ascertain its extent; and there are numerous vestiges of antiquity in the grounds. At Ballinagar, 1.5 miles from the vill are Mullins Wells, well visited during the summer, the grounds around them being tastefully laid out” (Lewis 1837, 29).